Noilly Prattle: 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

China - Spring 2018, Zhujiajiao, a charming old water town

man powered rickshaws
Sing Dynasty post office
     Took the 12:26 high speed train to Hongqiao Airport and transferred to the Metro to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town between Shanghai and Suzhou in the lakes and canals region. It was a little confusing after leaving Zhujiajiao Metro station, but we soon got oriented and started walking to the old town but decided to take a rickshaw peddled by a man. It was quite a bit farther than we had thought so were glad we had taken the rickshaw even though we were not dropped off at our hotel. The driver merely pointed us in a vague direction. We soon found a tourist information center and got directions to the hotel—the My Way Inn. Easy enough to find because it's next door to a famous post office built in the 19th Century during the Sing Dynasty, the last Imperial dynasty in China. It is famous because it's the only Sing Dynasty Post Office still standing.

My Way Inn and Renaissance Woman
canal view from our veranda
       The My Way Inn is quite a contrast from the more modern hotels we stayed at in Suzhou and Hangzhou. The hotel is an old canal house that has probably been around for several hundred years and looks it. Very quaint and charmingly appointed with odd bits of this and that from all over the place. The owner has traveled abroad and speaks excellent English. She is also reputed to be an accomplished musician as well. Also teaches yoga and tai chi in her spare time—a Renaissance woman!

tea on the veranda
our go to noodle shop
       After resting a while and having some tea  on our canal-side veranda we went out and wandered about the town a bit to get acquainted and get something to eat as well. It was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was pretty far in the west when we found a noodle shop and went in for a couple bowls. There was a large party of very exuberant women and I caught a few photos of a young woman in a traditional red costume posing for a photo op through a window behind the ladies.

landmark stone arch bridge - Zhujiajiao icon
old houses line the canal
       Zhujiajiao old town is all about narrow streets and olive green canals lined with old houses. It is old stone bridges and boats, boats, boats. In fact, the town is reminiscent of Venice with its narrow lanes, canals and gondoliers. Zhujiajiao has its own version of gondoliers who steer the tour boats with one oar at the rear. Many wear conical hats, but they don't seem to sing.

the only wooden bridge in Zhujiajiao

not all boats are for tourists 

 picturesque confluence of two canals

our street
lovely old houses on the canal at sunset
      The old town with its little narrow streets and alleys is particularly lovely in the evenings as the sun is throwing some beautiful mellow evening light on the canals and old buildings giving the scene a warm glow.

Zhujiajiao's iconic stone arch bridge at sunset

sunset glow on the berthed tour boats

breakfast on the veranda
canal side kebabs
     One thing stands out and it's about the innkeeper. The lady is quite an accomplished artiste of many talents—she's a published writer, musician of traditional instruments and poetic songs, a practitioner and teacher of yoga and tai-chi, a dancer and an innkeeper—she speaks English very well and teaches an English class. The My Way Hotel is her brainchild I think. For a reasonable charge she offered to bring breakfast to our room in the mornings. After returning from exploring the old town and eating simple (and very reasonable) noodle shop and and fast food kebab shop fare one day, the innkeeper was having an English conversation class and invited us to sit in and participate. On another evening she was having a show of yoga and traditional song and dance performances that we enjoyed tremendously.

Traditional Chinese Song Performance

yoga performance 
our hostess performing
a traditional song

the English Class and guests

       The contrast of the simple fare and accommodation and the accomplishments of the innkeeper provided a wonderful contrast to the hustle and bustle of Suzhou and Hangzhou. You just never know what you will run across on the open road.

Old Stone Bridge at night 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

China - Spring 2018, Hangzhou – 4 - 龙井村 Dragon Well (Tea) Village

March 24, Saturday

gateway to Longjing Village
(sign reads backwards)  
main road through the village
     After a wild goose chase to the wrong bus stop, we got on a #27 bus to Longjing Village at a bus stop surprisingly close to our hotel. It was around 10:00 in the morning and traffic was already horrendous, it being the start of a weekend when the tourists come out in hordes. It almost seemed like all of China's 1.3 billion people came to Hangzhou for the weekend. We had to stand on the overcrowded bus as it jerked along in the bumper to bumper traffic practically all the way to our destination, Longjing Village, a town famous for its tea. Longjing means Dragon Well in Chinese. At length we finally arrived at Longjing Village and explored around the area on foot.

 terraced tea bushes
fruit vendor

temple garden 

spring water well where the village gets its name

latticed window and very large teapot

Longjing Village (Chinese character for tea on the red lanterns)

       March is the best time, according to the travel brochure, to visit [龙井村] Longjing Village. Farmers are busy picking the tender new leaves. The tea is the finest at this time because few bugs are out to eat the new tea leaves and the nutrients in the soil are at their most potent. The tea from leaves collected at this time are the most prized crop of the entire year.

tea pickers returning from the plantation

pit stop for tea . . . 
. . . and nuts and sunflower seeds 
       It is a lovely rural village in the mountains to the west of Hangzhou. The area is famous in China for its tea. It is a very rough cut green tea. The freshly cut tea leaves are put loosely into a glass and hot water is pored over it. The loose tea floats at first and slowly sinks to the bottom of the glass. Nevertheless, you have to filter the leaves through your teeth. Either that or eat some of the leaves, which aren't bad, not bitter at all since only fresh young tea leaves are chosen. We stopped at a tea house to rest and refresh before heading back, by the #27 bus again, to Hangzhou.

rough cut loose tea leaves right in the glass

traffic congested main road
through Longjing Village
on the #27 bus to Hangzhou
        By the time we were ready to leave the traffic in the little town had become bumper to bumper, making a mockery of the idea of a peaceful country retreat from the busy urban scene. It wasn't much different really. We walked to the bus stop which was already crowded with waiting passengers. When the bus arrived it was a rush, pushing and shoving, to get through the door and onto the bus. You have to wait for the next bus if it fills up before you get on—so all the pushing and shoving. You can't afford to be polite, you have to push and shove and elbow your way onto the bus with the best (or worst) of them, or else. It was standing room only all the way into Hangzhou, so we decided to get off the bus at the Broken Bridge stop and walk the rest of the way. The foot traffic on Broken Bridge was completely congested. Unbelievable!

Lingering Crowds on the Broken Bridge

the Little Emperor
"I dreamed I was the Empress of China"
       We decided to go out for a little fresh air and walking exercise and look for a noodle shop on Longyou Road, not too far from the hotel. We walked along the east shore of West Lake which was very crowded with Sunday holiday makers--a good-natured happy crowd. Some ladies (and men, too) were into dressing up in traditional clothes for photo ops as we had seen in other areas of China—a very popular activity for Chinese tourists in their own country. We soon found a little noodle shop that we had heard good things about. It turned out to be practically around the corner from our hotel. The beef and shrimp noodle dishes we ordered were excellent. As so often happens, we found the best restaurant at the very end of our stay in Hangzhou. We returned to the hotel to prepare and pack for our departure to Zhoujiajiao, an old river town not far from Shanghai.

shrimp noodles
beef noodles

exquisitely executed Chinese characters in water

Thursday, May 31, 2018

China - Spring 2018, Hangzhou – 3 - suddenly Spring

March 22, Thursday

Qing He Fang Street
guess who?
     Well, the weather changed overnight—sunshine and warming in the course of the morning. By 11:00 we were ready to go out and enjoy the balmy day. There is a preserved Song Dynasty (12th 13th Centuries) street called Qing He Fang Street on the southeastern shore of West Lake that is a popular tourist destination, so we decided to go and look around the area. There is also a park on Nanshan Road, Xueshi Park, near He Fang Street with a popular teahouse that we wanted to try, and then a have lunch at a recommended steakhouse called Slim's not too far from Xueshi Park on Nanshan Road.

something to brighten up a rainy day
guardian of the gate?

silversmith at work 
corner house 

jolly god of happiness and abundance

It's all about willows in Xueshi Park.
      We took Metro Line 1 down to the old town area and walked along Southern Song Imperial Street to the corner of Qing He Fang Street. The crossroads was crowded and bustling with people and biz as we walked along Qing He Fang towards the lakeside Xueshi Park. At this time of the year the park is all about weeping willows, they are just dripping spring green everywhere you look. Wonderful for nature photography. Unfortunately, the teahouse we had planned try didn't work out. We were unable to read the menu (all in Chinese) and the wait staff spoke no English, so we left without ordering anything and proceeded to look for Slim's. We found Slim's without much trouble and found it open around 2 PM so we ordered some steaks which turned out to be delicious.

old stone bridge
the players

Slim's Steakhouse

March 23, Friday
on the boat
West Lake - popular for small boats
     Took a boat on West Lake today. The weather remained sunny and warm for a boat ride on the lake. The plan was to go by boat to the south end of the lake and walk along the Western Causeway, thus circumnavigating about 9/10 of the lake. The first stop was an island called Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, then another boat to the southwestern shore to pick up the long Western Causeway and walk back to the northern end of the lake, about 2.5 km.; took a #7 bus back to the hotel.
Leifeng Pagoda from Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island
idyllic scene on Western Causeway

lakeside pavilion on Western Causeway
single oar canopied boat on West Lake 

a little light mango refreshment concoction

water fountain in West Lake
roast pork and dumplings
       In the evening we decided to eat in at the Chinese restaurant on the 10th floor. The food was delicious and, although the nagging colds persisted, we felt better and stronger after resting and eating, so we went out after dark to see the Musical Fountain that spouts high jets of white and colored water that look a little like fireworks. 

Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale